Saturday, January 12, 2013

A portrait in the works

This is my first attempt at painting a portrait, if you don't take into consideration the stuff I did as a kid. I had asked a friend of mine if I could do one of her and her son after seeing a picture she had posted on Facebook about two years ago. I am finally getting around to it. She asked me if it would take a year to do it. “Oh no, not that long” was my reply. Two years later and I am finally starting it. I had primed a board last year specifically to do a portrait painting.

For this painting I primed the board orange. A couple of years ago I was at the La Jolla Festival of Arts here in San Diego, CA where I reside. I came upon the artist Annette Hammer. She had a display at her booth of one of her paintings which showed a progression of the painting from start to finish. I noticed that she had used orange for her base color. I asked her why she had done that and she told me that Rembrandt used the color orange for the base color of his paintings. Being the novice artist that I am, white is all that I have ever known or been taught to use. I guess I need to get out and learn more! I have seen black and gray gesso in the art stores and kind of wondered why anyone would use them. Using the black gesso reminds me of the black velvet paintings from the 60’s and 70's. Since then I have learned and thought of some ways I could use those colors to prime my boards. It is similar to using color in glazes to set the tone of a painting.

So I decided to give it a try. Off to the internet I went to see if I could find some more information about what Rembrandt did. No such luck! I could not find anything about him using the color orange to prime his boards. I even found a book at the local book store about Rembrandt but there was nothing in it about that subject. What did I do next might you ask? Well I thought about going onto the internet and asking some people for help. But being the shy boy that I am, hell maybe I should say the prideful, arrogant man in me claimed I don't need any help, so I went at it myself. I figured if it doesn’t work I can always paint it over with white primer and start again. My first attempt I added some orange to the gesso as I primed the board. It didn't look very orange to me though. Hello Mark! What do you think will happen when you add a lot of white to a little orange? It looked a lot like the color of a 50/50 ice cream bar. I still had two more coats of gesso to apply to the board so I decided to add some red to the mix. It looked a lot better but at first it was leaning to the salmon orange side of the spectrum. I was talking to an artist friend of mine about it and she helped me to realize that I am experimenting and it may be just the color I am looking for. If not, she recommended I try something different next time. I really need to get past the whole thinking of, “It has to be perfect every time or it is not going to be right!” I am working on it but old habits are hard to let go of sometimes!

My first attempt
For my second attempt I used the scale at work that we use for mixing ink for printing. I was probably being a little to picky! but by doing this I know how much of each color I used for future reference. 

This is my second attempt. "Definitely oranger"

Two years ago I had the chance to talk to Annette Hammer again about this and she gave me some more insight into what she does. She primes the board with white first and then goes over it with a somewhat thinned down orange. I told her what I had done and she said try adding some yellow to my mix next time. I love her work! The amount of detail she puts into her paintings is amazing.

One of the reasons it has taken me so long to do this piece is that I was trying to figure out what to paint in the background. I liked the picture my friend had of her and her son but wanted to do something different for the background. I asked her if she had anything she might like but she pretty much left it up to me. When she posted some pictures on Facebook a while back of a waterfall she and he family went to, I said to myself, “that is it”. She only had two pictures so I had to go onto the internet to help me fill in what I didn't have.

Once I got everything I needed, it then came down to working out the composition. I moved the tracings around on the board trying to figure out what would look the best. At one point I thought about doing the painting in a vertical format but came back to the horizontal. I also wanted to have a dark area behind her and her son with the waterfall being pretty much the only area in the background that is lit up. Rembrandt used dark backgrounds in some of his portrait paintings with the subject in the foreground being lit up. That is what I am attempting to do with this piece so we will see what happens. 

There is not much to look at right now because I am just getting started and because I have been focusing more on my whale painting lately. Trying to complete more than one piece a year! Reminds me of what a lady friend of mine once told me, "One is not enough but ten are to many". Of course she was talking about boyfriends. She was joking about that! At least I think she was. Anyways, I keep telling people, "I am not a multitasker"! Even though it my frustrate me at times that I am not doing more. I would rather do one painting that is a masterpiece, than ten that are mediocre! Even if it takes me a year.

Finishing what I started part 3

I am finally getting back into the studio to paint. My job has been keeping me busy lately and by the time I get home I don't feel much like doing anything! I was starting to get frustrated with myself for not painting. Over Thanksgiving I was determined to do something on this piece, even if it was not much. Last year flew by so fast and I am nowhere near where I should be or want to be with my art. My goal was to have this painting, along with others, done by now. There are two shows this year that I hope to be in, but it is not going to happen if I don't paint!

I decided to focus on the above water scene before finishing the whales, which is what I should do anyways. That part of the painting was not set in stone and I came up with a couple of ideas as to what I might do even as the painting progressed. In the beginning, the rough sketch I did for this piece included painting in some clouds and an island off to one side. Then I thought of doing a panorama scene that would show the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai. I spent about a month looking at so many photos of the three islands trying to piece together what I thought might look good. But it was just not clicking for me. The size of this painting is 18” x 24” and the area it would fit in is only three inches high by the width of the piece. I finally decided that a larger painting would do more justice to that idea. So I have put it on my “to do” list (which keeps growing all the time). The idea I settled on was a South Pacific island scene. While looking for reference material for my last whale painting I came upon a site on the internet for a whale watching adventure tour to the South Pacific islands of Tonga. They say they are the only place in the world where you can actually swim with Humpback whales, up close! And yes it is on my bucket list now!

After acquiring some reference photos, it was time to get to work. As usual, at first I was a little gun-shy about starting but once I did, things began to click. I painted a couple of islands and then started to do some clouds. I like where I am with the piece so far but I am also somewhat worried that I am trying to do too much with the above water scene, sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it? I want people to focus on the whales and not the sky. I am kind of at the same point I was with the bird painting I did last year. I thought about toning it down a bit but knowing me I will probably keep going in the direction I am! I do like detail in my work! People loved the sky and the bird as well in my last painting so I need to stop worrying about it. It feels good to get back to painting. Something I need to be doing! This piece is finally at the point where it is starting to come together and that has me excited right now. The motivation may be back but I need to stay focused on it and get it done! The San Diego county fair is four and a half months away and that time is going to fly by before I know it. Time to become a monk in the studio again!